- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 30, 2004

Three Maryland counties that don’t even touch one another have several things in common — aspects that might encourage home buyers who are frustrated by high prices and fierce competition: Frederick County in the north, Anne Arundel County to the east, and Charles County down south.

Despite their many differences, these real estate markets are actually rather similar in important ways.

Because none of them touches the Beltway, I consider them “outlying” counties. Generally speaking, this means buyers will find more available homes at lower prices.

Sure, you can drive farther and pay less, but if you want to be in the Washington metropolitan area without paying Montgomery or Arlington prices, these three counties are good options.

Because homes are easier and more affordable to buy in these counties, they have attracted the attention of buyers fleeing the congestion and expense of inside-the-Beltway communities. During the past five years, each county has seen sales rise and the inventory of homes for sale fall. As a result, sales chances are up in all three of these counties.

(Sales chances are a measure of market activity, calculated by dividing home sales by inventory. The market tends to favor buyers when sales chances are less than 15 percent. When chances are greater than 20 percent, it is a seller’s market. From the late 1980s until 1999, sales chances never went above 20 percent. In the past five years, they have never fallen below 40 percent.)

The charts here show that August home prices were similar and that prices have risen at the same pace in each county during the past five years.

Because homes remain so affordable in Charles County, it has become one of the region’s most competitive markets. Sales chances were 84 in August due to a jump in the number of sales for that month.

After Prince George’s County, Charles County may be a budget-minded home shopper’s best bet if you want to remain close to the District yet pay less than $300,000. That’s why, since 2000, inventory has been cut in half in Charles County, while home sales have doubled.

Chris Sicks

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